Chapter Twenty Three
Alisha was feeling quite miserable for the next few days. She was in the company of her parents and all three of them were staying at Aditi’s bungalow in Lonavala after her doctor had given her the green signal. She would just have to be careful about not lifting heavy weights or straining herself too much for the coming weeks.
It was a beautiful, one storied structure which was situated quite close to the valley and it had its own pool in the backyard and a beautifully manicured garden in the front. The change of scenery was essential for her given the current circumstances, but it did not do anything to lift her mood.
Alisha could view the sun setting over the valley and the myriad of colors splashed across the sky almost every day from her room on the first floor. Her mom tried a lot to make her go out of the room and enjoy the scenery, but she would simply refuse.
Having had enough of her brooding behavior, Adhira stomped into Alisha’s room one morning and said, “Get up and get ready. Here, wear this.” She placed a neatly covered parcel on her bed. She turned around to leave before saying, “I’ll just be back with some matching jewelry.”
Snapping the book that she was reading shut, she looked up at her mom with questioning eyes and said, “What is all this mom?”
Sighing Adhira said, “Just get ready fast. Our guests would be coming soon. And you cannot meet them in your ‘hello kitty’ pajamas.”
Alisha stood up at that and uttered, “Mom! I don’t get you. Who is coming?”
“Avinash and I are planning to get you engaged. So the guy with his family are coming here to meet you.” Adhira said with a twinkle in her eye.
“What the hell, mom? I never said yes to any of those guys in your list.” She said doing air quotes over the last part. She grabbed a jacket from the chair near the window, quickly put it on and said, “I’m outta here! You entertain your guests alone. Ping me when they are gone.”
She ran down the steps and just as she was about to leave, her mom shouted, “What am I supposed to tell them?”
Alisha turned around and shrugged at her mom while saying, “Tell them she ran away with her boyfriend!”
Alisha went out and spotted her dad mowing the front lawn. He looked happy and blissful. He was humming some tune and whistling in between and when he saw Alisha walking so fast, he said, “Whoa! Slow down there baby girl. What’s the rush?”
“Ask mom…” She narrowed her eyes at him when she took in his attire. He was dressed in khaki shorts and a t-shirt which looked quite dirty with the work he was doing. “Why, are you not getting late to get ready for your guests?” She questioned.
Avinash looked absolutely clueless when suddenly she could hear roaring laughter from behind her. Adhira came out laughing and said, “Well, my dear Alisha. It was just a ploy to get you out of your bed. There’s no one coming.”
Alisha sighed in relief before saying, “Oh! Thank God!”
Avinash turned her towards him and gave a quick peck on her forehead. He then said, “We are really worried about you dear. It’s been a week since we are here and you are still cooped up in your room. Minnie is coming tomorrow to discuss her wedding plans. Cheer up a little.”
Her mom chipped in, “And if you are missing Neil so much, just give him a call and apologize for whatever you told him. Start afresh. Become friends again.”
Alisha sat on the nearby chair that was kept in the lawn. “No mom, I cannot do that. I know I’ll get over him in some time. But I cannot risk everything again just for a friendship.”
“I really don’t understand your logic, Alisha. Okay, let’s assume that you guys start dating. What if still he doesn’t fall in love with you? Then what?” Her mom said.
“Then that would be a different matter altogether, mom. But here, he’s not even willing to try. He’s not even acknowledging the fact that he likes me too. May be our relationship wouldn’t work out when we start dating, but at least I’ll know that for a fact that we are not meant to be together.”
She got up and hugged her mom. “I know you both care for me a lot, but this is better than spending the rest of my life in a dilemma. We have so much in common, mom save our professions which are poles apart. And time just flies when we are together.”
Avinash softly said, “It’s alright Alisha. We respect your decision. And we are with you in whatever you decide.”
Alisha smiled at her dad and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll start going out more often now.” Then, she looked at her mom and said, “Mom, you keep that list of my potential grooms safely with you. I will ask you for it when I’m ready.”
Adhira squealed in excitement when Alisha said that. They then went inside to have breakfast. Post breakfast, Alisha decided to go for a walk.
As she was circling around the house, she mulled over the last few days. She was surprised when her parents took the truth about Neil and her relationship in their stride. They did not reprimand her for doing such a thing. In fact they laughed it off. She knew that they were really worried about her, and she resolved to get back to her normal cheerful self as soon as she could.
The next day, Minnie came with her mom. Aditi was very happy seeing Alisha. “Wow. You indeed look much better now. How are you feeling?” She asked.
“I’m doing great maasi. Thank you so much.” Alisha hugged both of them expressing her gratitude.
“Come on sis, we have loads of work to do!” an excited Minnie squealed in delight.
“Hmm…. Someone’s very happy, I see.” Alisha laughed.
“Yes, happy and nervous too.” Minnie replied.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you run away from your own wedding.” Alisha joked.
With that they got down to discuss about the wedding cards, the trousseau, the venue, the decorations and what not.
In the following weeks, Alisha helped Minnie in finalizing the venue and card design. As she couldn’t run around everywhere herself, her job was only to approve or disapprove any particular item or event in the wedding functions. The groundwork was all done by Minnie and her family. They had decided to divide the costs with Siddharth’s family which was a very impressive decision according to Alisha.
Minnie and Alisha rang in the New Year at the bungalow with their families. Alisha just hoped that the New Year would bring a little more happiness in her life.
A month later, Alisha and her parents returned to their apartment. Alisha was a little apprehensive about bumping into Neil, but thankfully his door was locked.
Minnie’s wedding was just a few days away and her cousin was becoming a bundle of nerves with each passing day. Thankfully, they had cancelled the pheras and had decided to get their marriage solemnized in court. Alisha knew that her cousin wouldn’t be able to sit still for the entire ceremony, so it wasn’t a viable option for her.
Alisha always found Neil’s door locked. And she was itching to ask someone about his whereabouts. But then she reminded herself that Neil’s life was none of her business now and she really needed to move on.
Two days before the wedding, as she was leaving her house, she found a smartly dressed elderly couple entering Neil’s house. They had two suit cases in their hands and looking at their age, Alisha offered to help them.
“Oh no dear. These are empty. We are going inside to fill the suit cases.” The woman smiled at her. “I’m Paulomi.” She said.
“Oh, hello. I’m Alisha. So you are the new tenants?” Alisha was surprised at this as she very well remembered the society rules. There could be no new tenant until she signed the no objection. Thinking her parents must have signed it, she shrugged it off.
“No dear, we are not new tenants. We are Neil’s parents. And we are just here to collect his things.” Paulomi said. “Excuse my manners. This is Aaditya, my husband.” She gestured towards the man who was now talking on phone. As soon as he ended the call, she said, “Aaditya, this is Alisha.”
Aaditya looked at her and smiled, “Wow. Finally we get to meet you. We have heard a lot about you. How are you doing dear?”
Alisha felt embarrassed about facing Neil’s parents and she was itching to ask them about his well-being, but she controlled herself.
“I’m good uncle. I need to be somewhere. Excuse me please. It was good meeting you both.” As she passed by them, she frantically pressed the button for the lift. As soon as she stepped inside the lift, she heaved a sigh of relief. The never ending questions about Neil again started haunting her. 'Would he be thinking about me? Does he miss me? If yes, why doesn’t he call? And where is he now? Why did he send his parents? And how do they know about me?' She stomped her feet in frustration to stop herself from thinking more about him.
She exited her building and left for work. She had a few days remaining at the hospital as she had submitted her resignation. She hadn’t decided about her future plans. She only wanted to go with the flow.
Finally, the day of the wedding functions arrived. They had just two days of celebrations. On day 1 they would have mehndi and sangeet combined. On day 2, they would get married at the registrar’s office in the morning, followed by a reception in the evening.
Day 1 went without a hitch. Alisha too applied mehndi very reluctantly as she was feeling bad that the artist’s work would go down the drain the moment she would scrub her hands in the operation theatre.
“It’s okay dear. You will be able to enjoy its fragrance and color for the duration of the functions at least. Please apply.” Her mom managed to convince her.
The next day, she accompanied Minnie at the marriage registrar’s office to sign as a witness along with her parents and the groom’s family as well. Minnie was dressed in a red sari in a bid to keep up the tradition, while Alisha wore a wine colored benarasi sari, courtesy her mom.
After completing the legal process, they all headed to their respective condos to get ready for the reception. The reception was held in a sports club under the open sky. Alisha wore an embellished light green colored gown that was specially designed by Minnie for her, with minimal jewelry and sparkly heels.
Minnie looked radiant in her light pink and gold gown which she had adorned with gold and diamond jewelry. Siddharth looked dapper in his golden sherwani as well. They looked like a perfect couple. Alisha was tired within an hour of the reception thanks to the high heels. She sat on one of the tables nursing her feet when she sensed someone’s presence behind her.
“Hey Alisha, you have a minute? I wanted to talk to you.” The familiar voice said.
Alisha turned around to find Arjun smiling at her. “Oh! Yes, sure we can talk. Tell me?”
“Umm… Not here, let’s go out there.” He said pointing towards the water fountain which was outside the reception area, a few feet away.
“Sure,” Alisha said and followed him near the fountain.
“First of all, I’m really sorry about all that happened in that party.” He sounded genuinely sorry.
“Relax Arjun. You don’t need to be sorry about something which is not your fault. And it’s over now. It was in the past.” She smiled as she said that.
He cleared his throat and said, “There’s something else in which I need a little help from you.” He removed a few papers and a pen from his pocket and said, “This is a survey that we are doing and I just need you to answer some questions.”
Alisha was perplexed at this and said, “Here?”
Arjun looked sheepish and said, “Yeah. Sorry about the venue. But I didn’t know how else to get hold of you. And it’s kind of urgent.”
“Oh ok then. I would be happy to help. What exactly do I have to answer?”
“These are just a few leading questions. Rapid fire types. You don’t have to think much. Just quickly say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Alright?”
“Yeah, okay.” Alisha said and leaned against the parapet separating the fountain.
“Let’s get you started then.” He opened the papers and took the cap off the pen. “Would you go on a blind date with anyone?”
Alisha laughed at that and said, “What?”
“Don’t ask me this. I have not made this questionnaire. Just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And please be serious. The sooner we are done, the faster you can join your friend back there.” He pleaded.
Alisha suppressed a giggle and said, “No.”
“Great then. Now no stopping. Just rapid answers ok? Here comes the next. Would you go on a blind date arranged by a good friend of yours?”
“Would you decide to get married with the said blind date after a single meeting?”
Alisha couldn’t stop the giggle that escaped her before she said, “No.”
“Would you get married to a guy chosen by your parents?”
“Would you go out of your way to help your loved ones?”
“Would you go on a date with me?”
“Would you go out on a date with Neil?”
What? Alisha couldn’t believe the question that she had been just asked. “Wait a minute Arjun. What did you just ask me?”
“You said ‘yes’ already. And your answer is recorded. You cannot change it now. Sorry.” He said.
“What do you mean by that?” Alisha was totally confused.
“I think it’s better if you ask the person who did all this.” He wiggled his brows as he said that.
Just then, a figure walked out from the bushes in the garden. It was dark, so Alisha couldn’t make out the features. Until the figure was in the light by the fountain.
She gasped looking at him.
“I’ll leave you guys now,” Arjun said before leaving.
Neil walked closer to Alisha and enveloped her in a hug. “God, I have missed you so much!” He whispered in her ears.
Alisha wiggled out of his embrace and there was a big question mark on her face. He took her near a bench and gestured her to sit down. Complying as she was tired in her heels, she sat and took off her sandals. Alisha took in his appearance and she found him looking very tired. His face was unshaven for days and he was wearing a three piece suit minus the tie. The top two buttons of his grey shirt were left open.
“What was all this?” She asked.
“I have missed you like crazy Alisha. And I really did not know how to talk to you. This survey thing was quite lame, I know. But, I couldn’t wait any longer to meet you. And don’t worry, I haven’t come here uninvited. I had called Minnie a few days back to ask about you and she invited me for her wedding. And before you blame her, I had made her promise that she wouldn’t say anything to you.”
Alisha urged him to continue further. He said, “I know this sounds foolish, but I was scared to call you. I did not want to be rejected by you. I know I took time to realize what I want, but now I’m a hundred percent sure. My bhabhi and my parents opened my eyes in this matter. You wouldn’t believe how miserable I was. I couldn’t concentrate on my shoots as well. My director was so pissed at me that he gave me an off for a few days. And when I called Minnie, she suggested this idea.” Alisha could feel the sincerity and honesty in his eyes that she couldn’t stay angry with him even if she wanted to.
She touched his cheek and said, “Oh Neil. I have been miserable too. You have no idea.” She touched her forehead with his and said, “I had met your parents a couple of days back. And I was so embarrassed to talk to them that I literally ran into the lift. But, I’m happy that you finally acknowledged your feelings for me.” She smiled looking at him.
Neil smiled back at her and she could see the relief in his eyes. “Yes, we should definitely give ‘us’ a chance. Let’s see where this takes us. But, before anything else, I want you to answer a few questions.”
“What? Another survey?” She laughed.
“Are you ready for a roller coaster ride in this journey?”
“Will you be able to handle all the turbulences that come your way considering that the telly town’s most eligible bachelor will no longer be single?”
Alisha laughed as she said, “Yes.”
Before Neil could say anything more, Alisha bent forward and kissed him. Neil pulled her closer and kissed her back. They shared a very passionate kiss but upon realizing where they were, they broke the kiss and took a breath.
“So?” Neil said, twisting the loose tendrils framing her face.
“So what?” Alisha whispered blushing furiously.
Neil removed a box from his pocket and opened it to reveal a bracelet with the letters ‘N’ and ‘A’ engraved in it. “This is for a new beginning for both of us.”
Alisha gasped looking at it and then said, “How were you so sure that I would agree to this?”
“Oh come on, I know you very well.”
“Yup.” And both of them burst out laughing.
They entered in the reception area holding hands and Alisha gave a subtle nod to Minnie who was on stage and couldn’t stop smiling from ear to ear.
The New Year definitely looked promising for her. And Neil had indeed become the breath of fresh air that she so desperately needed in her life.